NBA: The Top 10 Players in Professional Basketball
For the past seven weeks the sports world has been inundated with one topic, one athlete, one quarterback: Tim Tebow. The Broncos signal caller has been discussed, analyzed and criticized ad nauseam for the past two months. Whether it be analysts, writers or even that one guy at work, you know the guy, the one who knows nothing about sports, but approaches the water cooler and tries to fit in by saying something like "So...how bout that Tebow guy huh?"
Yes, he is certainly a polarizing figure in the sports world and for whatever reason people can't get enough "Tebow Time." Speaking honestly, had this been written two weeks ago you would've seen me adding to the vat of content that is everything Tebow.
Thankfully, just over a week ago, something else poked it's head back into the sports landscape. The NBA players and owners came to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, effectively ending the 149 day work stoppage that's been haunting avid fans everywhere and salvaging a 66 game schedule.
So if you got caught up in the Tebow mania, live in Seattle and are still boycotting the league for taking your Sonics away, or Eddy Curry, I'm here to tell you THE NBA IS BACK.
With storylines abound in the league, including the lockout shortened schedule, it's sure to be an interesting year. Hopefully the following can shed a little more excitement on the upcoming NBA season, yes even for you Wolves fans out there. The best part about this article? The rest of it is Tebow free.
10. Russell Westbrook
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The 2010-2011 season was Westbrook's coming out party. A late bloomer who put up modest numbers in college, Westbrook was touted by NBA scouts for his length and athleticism. Drafted fourth by Oklahoma City in 2008, he quickly teamed up with Texas phenom Kevin Durant to form one of the most dynamic tandems in basketball.
Under-rated by many, Westbrook put it all together last year in his third pro season. He averaged nearly 22 PPG while dishing 8.2 assists and grabbing 4.6 boards on average. These numbers put him in the category of elite guards in the league; however, Westbrook doesn't garner near the media attention as others, often playing Robin to Durant's Batman.
Westbrook is far from perfect, however. He was heavily criticized for his shot selection during last year's postseason, and took the lion's share of blame for their loss to Dallas in the Conference Finals.
With two elite players on their roster, perhaps this will be the year for the Thunder to break through into the NBA Finals.
As for Westbrook, he's only 23 and looks to have a great career ahead of him.
9. Carmelo Anthony
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When talking about Carmelo Anthony one thing immediately comes to mind. He can flat out score. During his career Anthony has averaged 24.8 PPG and 6.3 RPG, while leading the Nuggets almost single-handedly. It wasn't until Denver acquired an aging Allen Iverson halfway through Anthony's career with the Denver, that he was given any help offensively.
After toiling away in Denver for seven years, six of which included abrupt first-round playoff exits, the inevitable happened and Melo was shipped to New York. The Knicks paid a King's ransom for the 6'8" forward from Baltimore, giving up four players and three picks for the All-Star and veteran point guard Chauncey Billups.
In the process, Anthony teamed up with another star in center Amare Stoudemire to form another powerful duo in the league. Though it took the pair a while to gel, they eventually hit their stride and earned the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, where they met the Boston Celtics. Having been together for only half a year, the difference in chemistry between the two teams was painfully apparent as the veteran Boston squad swept the Knicks in four games.
There have been rumors abound of another superstar (seen later in this list) that may be slated to join the Knicks at the start of next season. Spike Lee is licking his chops at the prospect of a Knicks return to glory a la the Ewing days.
Whether this will happen, however, remains to be seen.
8. Kobe Bryant
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Ah yes, let the hate mail begin.
There will be people who disagree with this ranking and I'm okay with that. Kobe certainly has a strong contingency of fans, to whom he will most likely always be No. 1. Let me explain.
Kobe Bryant is a great player, in my mind he's one of the five or six best ever. He has five rings, just one away from tying the greatest player to ever pick up a basketball. He's proved he can win titles without Shaq, though he did need the help of Pau Gasol. He's even managed to repair his image after a couple scandals.
By every measure Kobe Bryant is incredible. But he's 33 and this next year will be his 16th in the league. His skills, though still exceptional, are declining. Most simply put, I believe there are seven players in the NBA currently better than he is.
Though he will never approach Jordan as far as a legacy is concerned, he does have a few good years left in him, and could catch or eclipse him in career titles.
Especially if they find a way to acquire this next guy.
7. Dwight Howard
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The most dominant big man in the game hands down. Having led the league in boards per game for three of the last four years, he's also the premier rebounder in basketball, boasting a career average of 12.9 rebounds a game. My apologies to one Kevin Love.
Unfortunately for Howard, he's another case of a superstar stuck in a smaller market, without much of a supporting cast. Though the Magic are perennial playoff participants and championship contenders, without the right players around Howard they haven't been able to bring a title home to Orlando. They came close in 08-09, making the Finals before falling to the Lakers in five games.
Howard brings an intriguing situation to the table as he's a free agent following this season. Media outlets have run rampant with speculation about his future. Conventional wisdom says given Howard's outgoing personality, he may want to move on to a bigger market in order to expand his brand. Howard, however, has occasionally expressed his desire to stay and bring a championship to Orlando.
Unless the Magic deal Howard before next summer, the speculation will remain just that.
Until then, fans in big markets will dream of seeing the big man in their colors, while the fans in Orlando dream of a title.
6. Dirk Nowitzki
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This one was tough for me. The man just had a career defining season, the type of year that every player dreams of to strengthen his legacy as a player. He carried his underdog Mavs to an improbable title over the heavily favored Heat, without arguably the team's second best player, Caron Butler. In the process, Dirk cemented himself as one of the greatest forwards in NBA history.
So he has to be in the top five players in the league right? Well yes...or no...maybe...I don't know...okay, no, NO! That was the debate in my head, but it came down to this—he's very German and I'm an American at heart. All kidding aside, what it really came down to was if I were to pick one person this past season to have on my team throughout the year in a draft like scenario, I would take Dirk sixth.
Dirk gets most of the credit for the success of this year's Mavs team, as he should. But to me, though Dirk is an immensely gifted offensive player at times he tends to be a liability defensively. Think about the make-up of the Dallas roster last season. Jason Kidd, though he's older, is still tremendous defensively. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood make up for what Dirk is not, a defensive force inside. Shawn Marion is versatile and can defend both inside and out, and Deshawn Stevenson is a good perimeter defender.
So the Dallas roster was constructed in such a way to best hide the defensive deficiencies of Nowitzki.
It's hard to knock a player as great as Dirk but in my eyes, he just misses the top five.
5. Dwyane Wade
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Since entering the league in 2003, Dwyane Wade has been the unquestioned leader of the Miami Heat franchise. Wade made an immediate impression in his rookie season, leading the usually hapless Heat to the Conference Semifinals.
Two years later when Miami acquired Shaq, and paired him with Wade, the two brought a championship to the city of Miami. Wade was named Finals MVP. A six-time All-Star, Wade is now 29 and has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Despite the occasional leg injuries, Wade has stayed relatively healthy over his eight years in the league. His 25.5 PPG last year was actually a 10th above his career scoring average. It's not just offense that Wade brings when on the court, he's also excelled defensively, being named to three career NBA All-Defense teams.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Wade is what he has done for the fortune of the Heat franchise. Since being drafted, he has turned them into perennial contenders and champions. This past offseason, Wade took it a step further. He recruited friends and free agents Chris Bosh and LeBron James to sign with the Heat, creating the "Big Three."
Yes, in Wade's eight years in the league he has turned Miami from a hapless loser into the biggest powerhouse in the league today.
D-Wade can do it all.
4. Derrick Rose
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If the 10-11 season was a breakout one for Westbrook, for Derrick Rose it may have been the launch into super-stardom.
Everything clicked for the 2008 number one pick last season. After two solid years in the league, both of which included first round exits in the playoffs, the 23-year-old Chicago native led his hometown Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, before falling to the Miami Heat.
During the season, the numbers Rose put up were staggering. He averaged 25 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds a game. Rose was awarded the league MVP award for his efforts last season, becoming the first Bull to do so since Jordan.
Rose's ability to get from end to end and finish inside is unparalleled among point guards in the NBA. Get him the ball in transition and he's gone in a flash. The one perceived hole in his game, his shooting, improved tremendously last season. His three-point shooting percentage has jumped from a very low 22 percent in his rookie season to a respectable 33 percent this past season. Rose also attempted 313 more three's this year than he had in the past. Additionally, his percentage from the free throw line spiked nine percent.
Yes, Rose has certainly established himself as one of the league's premier players but is he the best at his position?
This next guy might have something to say about that.
3. Chris Paul
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Since entering the league in 2005, Chris Paul has unquestionably been the best point guard in the league.
A modern day Isiah with better shooting touch, nobody runs an NBA team and sets up teammates better right now than Paul. He's a four-time All-Star who averages 18.7 ppg, 9.9 APG and 4.6 RPG for his career, a mark good enough for third of all time.
Drafted fourth overall by the Hornets right behind Nets point guard Deron Williams, Paul made an immediate impression on the league, winning Rookie of the Year during the '05-'06 season. His best two years statistically came from 07-09, a stretch in which he averaged an absurd 21 PPG, 11.6 APG and 22.8 PPG and 11 APG in consecutive years. Paul finished second in the league MVP voting for the '07-'08 season, finishing just behind Kobe Bryant. It's the closest he's come to winning the award in his career.
Hampered by a knee injury for much of the '09-'10 season, Paul only appeared in 45 games for New Orleans. Last year in his first season back from the injury, he got right back on track. Paul averaged nearly 16 PPG while dishing 9.8 APG right around his career average. Apart from is exceptional offensive skills, Paul is also the premier defensive point guard in the NBA. He's led the league in steals and SPG in four of his six years in the league.
Of course any conversation about Paul these days wouldn't be complete without bringing up his future. Only 26, he will be a free agent after this season, and the overwhelming thought is that he will join Anthony and Stoudemire and become a Knick.
Having missed out on LeBron in the summer of 2010, Knicks fans can only hope they don't miss out on their prime free agent target yet again.
2. Kevin Durant
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Entering the 2007 draft, the Portland Trail Blazers held the first selection. They had a choice between potential franchise center and Ohio State freshman Greg Oden or a lanky 6'9" kid from Texas. They made the wrong choice.
That lanky kid was Kevin Durant. Knocked by some scouts for his lack of strength, rumors circulated that Durant couldn't even bench the 185 pound weight one time at the combine. For this reason among others, the Blazers opted to select Oden, who's endured numerous knee and foot injuries. During his four years, Oden has only played 82 of a possible 248 games, averaging a modest 11.1 PPG and 8.5 RPG for his career.
Durant meanwhile, is taking the league by storm. Drafted the very next pick by the Seattle Sonics, who became the Oklahoma City Thunder the following year, Durant won the Rookie of the Year award his first year in the league averaging 20.3 PPG and 4.4 RPG. Two years later, his scoring averaged ballooned to a league leading 30.1 PPG and he averaged a career-high 7.6 RPG as well. Last year it was more of the same from Durant, who again led the league in scoring with 27.7 PPG and grabbed just under seven boards per contest.
More impressive than his individual numbers, is the vast improvement the Thunder organization has experienced since selecting Durant in '07. In his first two seasons in the league the Sonics/Thunder won only 20 and 23 games respectively. The last two years for the Thunder have shown exceptional growth within the franchise as they won 50 games in '09-'10 before being knocked out in the first round by the Lakers. This last season proved to be a breakthrough for the Thunder, as they won 55 games and reached the Western Conference Finals before losing to the eventual champion, the Mavericks.
As for Durant, he still has work to do. He's yet to win an MVP award, finishing in the top five of voting twice. More importantly though, he doesn't have a ring. Maybe this is the year both he and the Thunder will reach that goal.
1. LeBron James
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How do you go from possibly the most loved and revered person not only in your city but also in your sport to the most vilified individual in all of sports?
Go on national TV for an hour long special and rip the collective hearts out of the mass population of said city, that's how. The story has been more than well publicized, starting with LeBron's junior year of high school when he petitioned the NBA to enter the draft before his senior year and the Jordan comparisons began. Then after his senior year, in a dream scenario he was drafted by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After seven years in Cleveland, with minimal help and no title, LeBron, who was a free agent, found himself in the hottest chase for any individual since '94 and that involved a white Ford Bronco.
After his decision to leave his hometown Cavs and "take his talents to South Beach," James joined Bosh and Wade to form the most formidable lineup in the league. Though they were able to advance to the NBA Finals, the Heat fell short to the Mavs in six games. LeBron was nearly non-existent much of the Finals, specifically in the fourth quarter crunch time (Insert corny joke here). That leaves LeBron entering his ninth year in the league, still without a championship.
Love him or hate him, there's no denying he's the league's most supreme talent and player. No player built like him can do the things that LeBron can. At 6'8", 240 lbs (though he's reportedly closer to 260-270), James is an absolute Mac truck of a man. On top of that he's the league's premier athlete, running with the grace and speed of a cornerback up and down the floor. Once he gets going he's physically impossible to stop in transition. It is a true pleasure to watch LeBron James play basketball.
There are times during a game where LeBron will all but leave the court and disappear from action. And despite his size and strength, he's yet to develop even a serviceable post game, being outplayed by point guard Jason Kidd down low in the Finals. The numbers speak for themselves (27.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 7.0 APG). Yet a ring-less LeBron remains both the league's best player as well as its greatest enigma.